Port Royal: A town on the move

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By Joe Lee, Councilman, Town of Port Royal Council
In late July I was invited to provide an update on the status of the Town of Port Royal.  I  accepted the invitation knowing full well there would not be any problem coming up with sufficient content for such a report.  Our August has been a whirlwind of activity.
First, as a community, we had to fight hard to convince the school board to keep open one of the few community schools left in America. With solid support from the entire county, we were successful.
Now we are on to planning the “Century of Learning” celebration on September 24, a special afternoon recognizing Port Royal Elementary School at 100 years old — one of only two active schools in the state at 100 years. In conjunction with the school’s 100 year celebration, the town is sponsoring a homecoming dinner for all current and former Port Royal residents and the town is planning events for next year’s celebration of the 450th anniversary of Jean Ribaut’s landing at Parris Island. This established the first settlement of Protestants in the new world, years ahead of St. Augustine and Jamestown.
We recently met with Governor Haley and the Budget and Control Board in Columbia on August 9 to have them approve the sale of the port property for $17 million dollars.  Although we have been to this step before, we feel with local developers and local planners, we will have a better opportunity to close the sale this time.  Estimates put the actual closing at November.  There are plenty of details to work out and council will be intimately involved if changes come to our 2006 development agreement or PUD.
On August 12 we broke ground for our Cypress Wetland project.  This takes a stormwater management system and turns it into an amenity for citizens, students and tourists who want to photograph birds, wildlife and local flora.  This project designed to retain stormwater prior to it’s flowing into the Beaufort River at 12th street has a $600,000 dollar price tag and will be funded by using a combination of TIF funds and stormwater receipts. We already have calls from tour companies seeking to add this to their itinerary.
The town purchased The Shed this summer for $500,000 using hospitality tax revenue.  We are currently working with management companies to develop a plan going forward to utilize The Shed to the best advantage of the town, the residents and the region.  We feel this along with the wetlands project will attract visitors who will eventually lead to the re-development of our retail area along Paris Ave.  We can’t wait for the development of the port to mature in order to attract businesses; we need the vitality that a dynamic retail environment brings to the area NOW.
We must remind everyone that we have a $4.7 million dollar annual budget, 10,000 residents and less than 45 employees — with these facts, our $1.1 million dollar investment in amenities is something that makes us standout among our peers.
Our day-to-day activities account for the energy that is stored up for a re-vitalized Paris Avenue.  Our Historic Port Royal Foundation has active committees working on expanding the museum in the Union Church — we must point out the high level of cooperation we are receiving from our neighbors at the Parris Island museum.  Historic Port Royal Foundation sponsors a series of lectures on local history every winter and free community suppers to bring neighbors together.
We are about to open the second span across the Beaufort River and this winter we will be paving Ribaut Road from the bridge to the bridge over Battery Creek and we will likely, in the future, see SCDOT re-route U.S. 21 through Port Royal to eliminate the difficult left turns at Ribaut Road and the bridge. Our challenge now is to get residents who live in the areas at the base of the bridges to make turns against the increased traffic at the increased speeds.
And, finally, this is an election year in Port Royal, our mayor and two council members are up for election.  We use the off-year cycle to increase interest in local issues.